The Palmer United Party’s problem child, Senator Jacqui Lambie, is again causing headaches for the eponymous party’s leader Clive Palmer. And according to Lambie, it’s not a matter of whether she will leave PUP but whether Palmer will allow her to remain.
The heightened tensions between Lambie and Palmer have this time flared as the Senator escalated her campaign against a meagre pay deal for ADF personnel, one which involves an increase that is less than inflation and a cut to leave entitlements.
Lambie had initially called for Australians to silently protest against the Government on Remembrance Day by turning their backs on any Coalition MPs speaking at events to commemorate the occasion.
But today Lambie has upped the ante, saying she will oppose any legislation the Government tries to get through the Senate before the end of this year, unless ADF personnel are provided with a better pay deal.
Lambie appears unconcerned about whether her party leader agrees to such a strategy. Claiming to be tired of Palmer “back-flipping all over the place”, the Senator told the media that “it’s getting to the point where I just don’t care what Clive Palmer’s position is on this at the moment”, that Palmer can no longer “sit on the fence” on the issue, and that “if [Palmer] had a conscience, he’d stand right beside me and our troops and our veterans and make a stance on this now”.
For his part, Palmer has endeavoured to portray the actions of his rogue political progeny as evidence of the healthy and diverse debate that takes place within the canvas walls of the PUP tent.
Telling the media that Lambie’s call for a Remembrance Day protest was not PUP policy, Palmer also stressed “individual members can say what they like whether they’re right or wrong and we’ll discuss it in the party room and the policy will be determined”.
“She’s never gone against our policy, she’s always voted in Parliament with the team,” he added.
And this is the key point: it’s one thing for Lambie to campaign on her pet projects in the public domain, but when it comes to votes in the Senate, she is expected to toe the PUP line. Palmer cannot continue to enjoy his role as the ultimate decision maker in the Australian Parliament without Lambie’s vote.
Until now he’s depended on Lambie’s loyalty to him and to PUP to keep her in line. As a PUP spokesman noted earlier today, “Senator Lambie has always voted with the Palmer United Party and we expect that to continue.”
Lambie has already implied frustration with the imposition of this party discipline. In another of her many media interviews, the Senator recently said she was concerned PUP’s support for the Government’s FOFA reforms would adversely affect “the battler” and that PUP was “starting to steer off course a bit when it comes to the underdog: the pensioners, the people on disability payments”.
For perhaps the first time, even though it has been long speculated upon by the political commentariat, Lambie flagged in that interview that she would leave PUP if she judged the party had lost its way:
I won’t betray the underdog. If it starts to move in another direction – the party – you won’t see me part of that party. Put it that way. I will not lose my own moral bearings. If the party starts to lose its bearings, then I will get up and leave.
Since publication of that statement less than a week ago, Lambie appears to have changed tack.
Her comments today, challenging Palmer to join the ADF pay campaign, suggest the Senator is determined to test the limits of Palmer’s patience and willingness to let her roam widely outside the bounds of PUP’s (admittedly ever-changing) policy positions.
Lambie now says she has no intention of leaving PUP and is threatening to cross the floor against her party in the Senate, noting, “Clive will have to decide whether or not he wants to see his party separated in the Senate.”
Lambie’s challenge to Palmer is clear; not only does she want the right to roam free on her pet issues but also the right to make a difference on those concerns. And if Palmer doesn’t like it, then he’ll have to force her out of PUP.
“If I’m told that I’ll (need to) follow the party line, well then the party will be shown that I won’t be following the party line and it’ll be up to Clive Palmer to ask me to leave,” Lambie said this morning. “If Clive Palmer wants me to leave then that is Clive Palmer’s call. He is the leader.”
Being ex-communicated from PUP would seal Lambie’s reputation as Queen of the Underdogs, and Palmer knows it. He can’t control her, nor can he afford to lose her.
Amongst the political chaos that such manoeuvrings produce, it’s refreshing at least to see that Lambie knows how to outsmart the old dog.